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US judge reinstates war crimes lawsuit against Libya's Khalifa Haftar

Lawyer for Libyan families says they plan to take Haftar's deposition, ask him questions about the actions of his military forces
Khalifa Haftar has been a resident of the US state of Virginia for decades.
Khalifa Haftar has been a resident of the US state of Virginia for decades (AFP/File photo)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

A lawsuit in the United States accusing Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar of war crimes, torture, and extrajudicial killings has been ordered to move forward after a months-long pause in legal proceedings.

A federal court in the US state of Virginia issued an order to continue the case, which was put on pause in November after federal judge Leonie M Brinkema ruled that it was "too closely intertwined" with the December elections in Libya.

In the November court order, Brinkema described how another judge presiding over Haftar's cases was sent an email outside of proper legal channels by an individual claiming to represent Libya's Government of National Unity (GNU).

Mark Zaid, an attorney for the families that are suing Haftar, said the next step involved taking a deposition, which would require the Libyan commander to answer questions about alleged war crimes, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

"The court allowing our lawsuit to proceed forward means we're one step closer to accountability. There's no stopping this litigation now," Zaid told Middle East Eye.

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"International law is quite clear regarding what transpired to our clients' families and those of the many other innocent Libyan victims of Haftar and justice will be done."

US judge freezes cases against Libya's Khalifa Haftar, citing political interference
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Jesse Binnall, Haftar's lawyer, did not respond to MEE's request for comment by the time of publication.

Haftar, who has been a Virginia resident for decades, has been enmeshed in several separate lawsuits for Libyan citizens who say they are victims of war crimes his forces allegedly committed in the North African country's civil war.

In 2019, he led a failed assault on Libya's internationally recognised government in Tripoli but was pushed back following Turkish military intervention.

His forces were accused of shelling civilian homes and either overseeing or directing the torture and execution of prisoners. 

Following a ceasefire in October 2020 and the establishment of a unity government, the country was headed towards elections in December 2021. However, the polls were postponed and Libya continues to remain divided politically.

The lawsuits were first filed in September 2020 by two relatives of Haftar's alleged victims, Ali Abdalla Hamza and Salimah Jibreel, who say that the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) is responsible for the deaths of their family members.

The lawsuit focuses on the LNA's siege of Benghazi in 2016, particularly the district of Ganfouda, where repeated air strikes by Haftar's forces pinned down hundreds of civilians.

Hamza says he had to flee his home in the area after it was bombarded and looted. His wife, two brothers and three sisters took shelter in an unoccupied apartment in a Ganfouda suburb where they ate tree bark and grass and drank water from puddles in order to survive.

The plaintiffs sued Haftar under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, which allows non-US citizens to seek compensation from individuals who, acting in an official capacity for any foreign nation, allegedly committed torture or extrajudicial killing.

According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, Haftar has extensive property holdings in Virginia, including a 5,600 square-foot house in Great Falls, Fairfax County, valued at nearly $2.5m; a condo in Falls Church, Virginia; a three-bedroom ranch; and a $700,000 horse farm in the small town of Boyce.

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